Thursday, August 4, 2011

Preparing for Leadership

In the book of Judges our lessons have shown how four factors of a vicious cycle tend to be present. (1) The people would fall away from serving God; (2) the enemy would oppress the Israelites; (3) the people would pray for mercy; and (4) God would appoint a judge to deliver them. Our current lesson focuses on Judges 13:1-8, 24-25.

Verse 1 sets the stage of phases 1 and 2 immediately. '...the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord delivered them into the hand of the Philistines forty years' (Judges 13:1). God's usual punishment was to allow the Israelites to be defeated and ruled by a heathen enemy for a period of time. This time, the "sentence" was longer than usual - forty years (a complete generation). The enemy chosen by God to rule over them for their disobedience (the Philistines) consisted of five cities, their neighbors, who believed in their destruction. Three of the cities were coastal: Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Gaza. The other two cities were inland: Ekron and Gath. Interestingly enough, what is missing from the Scriptures this time as to the four factors of the vicious cycle is the people crying to God for their deliverance. The request was probably made by the Israelites, but they did not understand that God was sending a judge much differently than in times past. He was preparing this judge for leadership from the womb.

The parents are from the tribe of Dan which lay next to the country of the Philistines. We are introduced to Manoah and his wife (Judges 13:2). His wife's name is never mentioned in the Scripture, but she plays a prominent role. She is barren. A woman who was barren in those days was looked down upon in society. But God sent His angel to declare her barren no more. (Judges 13:3) Whether she felt she was speaking to an angel or a man of God, she did not ask because he was correct in saying she was barren when he appeared to her. She was immediately receptive when he said '...beware...' (Judges 13:4) and admonished her to stay away from wine or strong drink and not to eat unclean things (Leviticus 11). She had to possibly change her diet, but the male child she would conceive had been declared to be a Nazarite for life by divine designation. An infant feeds from its mother while inside the womb and this child must not eat of the forbidden food or drink to break his vow before he is born. '...and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb...' (Judges 13:5b; Numbers 6:5). She was to observe that the child she was to bear was to be a Nazarite devoted unto God (Numbers 6) and he had a tremendous assignment from God. '... he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines' (Judges 13:5c).

This was good news to her. She would no longer be barren and this information had to be shared with her husband, Manoah. '...A man of God came unto me, and his countenance was like the countenance of an angel of God...he said unto me, ... thou shalt conceive, and bear a son...the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb to the day of his death' (Judges 13:6,7). She was excited in giving the good news to Manoah. She told him what she was instructed to do. Manoah apparently did not interrogate his wife because she was a virtuous woman in whom he trusted; rather he went in prayer to God, asking Him to send the angel back so that both he and his wife might get instructions concerning the rearing of the child. He had great faith that God would send them a son. Manoah was simply concerned with details, even though in all probability he was familiar with the Nazarite vow. (See Numbers 6) God answered Manoah's prayer by sending the same angel to his wife while she was alone once again. She hastened to get Manoah in order that they both could receive the instructions. Manoah said to him 'Now let thy words come to pass. How shall we order the child, and shall we do unto him?' (Judges 13:12) This was evidence that Manoah was pleased they were chosen as parents and he was ready to do his part. The angel of God repeated all the instructions. (Judges 13:13,14)

The Judges 13:9-21 text is a detailing of the meeting between God's angel and Manoah. Manoah was a hospitable man and desired to offer meat to the divine messenger that brought all this good news to them. The angel declined and had Manoah place the meat on a rock to be offered as a sacrifice to God. Manoah and his wife also wanted to know his name. The angel stated his name was a secret. He had delivered the message from God and his name was a secret to keep him from being idolized. All honor goes to God not the messenger. The meat offering was offered '...when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, that the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar. And Manoah and his wife looked on it, and fell on their faces...' (Judges 13:20). It was then that Manoah knew for sure that he was an angel of God.

'And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson; and the child grew and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to move him at times in the camp of Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol' (Judges 13:24,25). Manoah's wife gave birth to a son and named him Samson, meaning 'little sun'. It may be that she named him Samson due to the shining countenance of the divine messenger. Or it could be that she named him Samson because he should be compared to the sun as a strong man when he used his strength. As the Israelites continued to suffer, the child grew and the Lord blessed and qualified Samson in mind, body, and soul for his destined purpose. God does not bring people into this world without purpose. Samson was moved in the camp of Dan to the training camp between Zorah and Eshtaol. During his training, Samson demonstrated brave actions and began to excel. Samson was in training for his calling as the 13th judge.

We should be very careful not to overlook our individual purposes, keeping in mind that such "purposes" may take only a few minutes in a lifetime. Also be confident that if God sends us, He will always prepare us. And often He will prepare us in such a way that we cannot reasonably take credit for it ourselves.

Written by Deborah C. Davis

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